Handicap International’s first emergency team arrived in the Philippines on Tuesday to bring relief to families left destitute by Typhoon Haiyan. Although the number of victims remains uncertain, survivors in the most isolated areas urgently need aid to stay alive. Some 660,000 people have been displaced by the disaster and more than 40,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged, according to estimates.
“Everyone’s talking about Tacloban, which was hit extremely hard, but what also worries me is that more than four days after the typhoon we still have not heard news from other affected areas,” says Edith Van Wijingaarden, Handicap International’s Field Program Director in the Philippines. “One small island appears to have been wiped off the map.”
The first emergency team joined the 74 Handicap International staff already in Philippines. The organization has been doing development and disaster relief work in the country since 1985. Several additional staff members including logistics experts and emergency project managers are set to arrive over the next few days.
"It’s essential to respond immediately and to meet the basic needs of the people affected," says Hélène Robin, head of Handicap International’s emergency operations. “This means things like shelter, food, and personal hygiene."
Handicap International is sending emergency kits to the Philippines from its warehouse in Dubai.
"What makes all the difference is that these kits have been pre-prepared and designed for different sizes of families," says Hélène. "The basic six-person emergency kit contains a tent, a cooking kit, a water can, soap, blankets, mosquito nets, rope, and a plastic tarp. It meets people’s basic needs in the immediate aftermath of disasters like this one."
This initial delivery of emergency kits will provide shelter and living essentials to more than 4,400 people. More supplies will be delivered in the coming days and weeks, including medical equipment and mobility and assistive devices. With this equipment, staff members will be able to set up fixed and mobile focal points where people with disabilities can receive care.
Handicap International is concerned about the plight of the most vulnerable individuals, including people with disabilities and the elderly. "In a situation as catastrophic as this, these people are exposed to even greater danger because they can’t access humanitarian aid by themselves," says Hélène. "It’s up to us to supply them with relief adapted to their needs, such as mobility aids, and to refer them to other aid organizations that can help them access additional services."
Handicap International also intends to set up a logistics platform to transport and distribute humanitarian aid, particularly to isolated regions. The Philippines is made up of hundreds of small islands, so the organization will need to use different types of transport, including boats. The areas affected by the storm are sometimes hundreds of miles apart.
"Our Filipino colleagues... know the country inside out," says Hélène. "We’ve got a lot of experience of responding to large-scale disasters in the Philippines."
Although the fatality rate is known to be high, the number of people injured in the storm remains uncertain. Given Handicap International’s experience in previous disasters, the organization is already planning to expand its relief effort in order to provide rehabilitation care to the injured, facilitate their recovery, and prevent the development of permanent disabilities.